Some in the Unionist press have a compulsive urge to present absolutely any international news as a major blow to Scottish independence. They’re a bit like those people on Obsessive Compulsive House Cleaners, who visit a therapist weekly to talk about how a traumatic childhood encounter with a Scottie dog sparked off all their problems. There haven’t been any forest fires in Narnia recently, in case you were worried about any imaginary forest friends, but if there were some Unionist news outlet somewhere would explain why it’s terribly bad news for Alex Salmond.
And so it is with the Commentator, which reported this week on an interview which Artur Mas, president of the Catalan government, gave to the Italian newspaper La Reppublica. It’s terribly bad news for those separatists, allegedly.
Mind you, in the article they did describe Holyrood as “Scotland’s devolved regional government”, like Strathclyde but with trams and a castle, where they presumably meet to discuss important devolved regional things like bus timetables and road signage and decide how to spend the pocket money London kindly sends. So we can’t say we’ve not been warned we’re dealing with the Daily Mail end of the Unionist scare story spectrum and a reporter whose knowledge of Scottish and Catalan politics is probably exceeded by his or her knowledge of arson attacks in Narnia.
La Vanguardia didn’t focus primarily on the EU issue, its main thrust was that the interview contained a statement from Mas that early elections to the Catalan Parliament could be an alternative if, as seems likely, Madrid blocks other means of holding a referendum.
Meanwhile Vilaweb says that Mas used the interview to state his certainty that there would be a yes vote in the referendum, and that it would be held on 9 November.
Asked about the possible position of Europe, Mas said that he understood that Scotland and Catalonia present a problem for the current member states, but he was sure that a way of resolving the institutional issues could be found without consequences for European citizens.
So far, there’s absolutely nothing here which could in any way be characterised as a “blow” to Scottish independence. But let’s plough on. Oh this must be it, in the Spanish version given by La Vanguardia.
“Las presiones son fuertes. Los Estados soberanos no quieren problemas si los pueden evitar. Habrá el precedente de Escocia, que votará antes que nosotros. Después vendrá Catalunya. También he considerado que en un momento inicial, entre el referéndum y la proclamación de la independencia, podríamos quedarnos fuera de Europa. No del euro, de la Unión”, comenta.
“Sería una lástima, porque nosotros queremos seguir en la UE. Sería necesario encontrar un régimen transitorio para evitar la expulsión de la UE. De todos modos, solicitaremos un reingreso. Nosotros queremos estar en el euro, en la Unión, en (el área de libre circulación sin fronteras) Schengen y en la OTAN”, añade.
“The pressures [from Madrid] are strong. The sovereign states don’t want problems if they can avoid them. There will be the precedent of Scotland, which will vote before us. Afterwards will come Catalonia. I have also considered that at the initial moment, between the referendum and the proclamation of independence, that we could be left outside of Europe. Not outside the euro, outside of the Union,” he comments.
“It would be a pity, because we want to remain in the EU. It would be necessary to find a transitional regime in order to avoid expulsion from the EU. In any case, we will apply to re-enter. We want to be in the euro, in the Union, in (the area of free movement without borders) Schengen, and in NATO,” he adds.
I must confess I’m still struggling to see the major blow to Scottish independence here. It can’t be that the topic of Scottish independence is one that European states find problematic and really don’t wish to discuss just now. We know that already because one of those states is the UK.
It must be what Mas said about leaving the EU.
The key part here, which means this is very far from being a blow to Scottish independence, is the phrase immediately before the suitably scary looking “that we could be left outside of Europe”. That’s “between the referendum and the proclamation of independence”. Mas is talking about what might occur in the aftermath of a yes vote in a referendum whose legitimacy is denied by Madrid, and that Catalonia might find itself excluded from the EU by Madrid after Catalonia has voted for independence.
However Mas is also saying that Catalonia would not make a formal declaration of independence until Barcelona, Madrid, and Brussels had negotiated a settlement, but that in the meantime some sort of transitional arrangement is going to be required. It’s under this arrangement that Catalonia may find itself temporarily outside the EU in the sense that Catalonia would have no representation as an EU member. However Mas clearly expects the use of the euro as the currency and the free movement of goods and people to continue throughout this transitional period.
This is all up for discussion because Madrid refuses to recognise Catalonia’s right to a referendum. It all depends upon how intransigent la Moncloa is going to be after the Catalans have voted, by one means or another, in favour of independence. It could well be that after a yes vote, the Spanish government will have a period of sulking followed by elections where the victor recognises that the Catalan gemme’s a bogey. Catalans realise that it might take a couple of years, but la Moncloa will give in eventually. This is the worst case scenario, however the message from Mas is the whatever the difficulties and obstacles placed in Catalonia’s way, one day it will be independent and a member of the EU.
In Scotland, we’re in a different ball game. Scotland’s referendum is legally recognised and constitutional. No one expects Scotland to be excluded from the EU the day after a yes vote in the referendum. The framework for what happens after a yes vote in Scotland is already in place. Even with a massive majority in favour of independence, on 19 September 2014 Scotland will still be a part of the United Kingdom and still a part of the EU. Scotland will not become independent until 24 March 2016, by which time negotiations will have taken place between Holyrood, Westminster and Brussels.
Mas is also keenly aware of that fact, which is what he meant by the precedent of Scotland. Catalonia is proposing to hold its vote on 9 November 2014, if there has been a yes vote in Scotland, negotiations between Holyrood and Brussels will already be taking place. Catalonia will have a model to point to.
So this news is nothing at all like a blow to Scottish independence. Instead it’s an instance of Scottish independence giving a boost to Catalan independence, but that’s something the Unionist media in Scotland would prefer we don’t hear about. Perhaps that will also change on 19 September 2014.